Many Layers of Illness

“Could my life history have contributed to this illness?” I asked my therapist one day.  We’ve been seeing each other now for the better of three years and it seems the trail of ‘stuff’ is never-ending.

“I think it is fair to say that given your childhood, your marital history, and the years you did it all as a single mom, it has taken its toll.”

“You’ve always been sick,” my middle daughter tells me.  I’m taken aback.  Have I really?  My husband agrees:

“As long as I’ve known you, yes.”

I’ve never seen myself that way.  Sure, health has been a concern, but if I were to define my life up until now it has been more struggle than illness – mentally and emotionally trying to hold it all together.  I can’t remember a time when I felt safe enough to just breathe.

“You grew up in an environment of chaos and denial,” my therapist tries to explain.  “Your response is hyper-sensitivity and an exaggerated sense of responsibility.”

At fifty-eight, I am ready to move on, craving a new experience of life.  I just want to learn to be in the world, without turning everything inward, or feeling the tug of obligation.  I want to find peace of mind.

“There are a lot of unresolved issues in our family,” my daughter tells me, currently  struggling with her own equilibrium.  “It wasn’t always easy for us.”

This does not shock me.  Years confined to bed have given me plenty of time to review the mistakes of the past and recognize the ways in which I damaged my children.  I just don’t know how to repair it all now, or if it’s even possible.

“I can see now that I wasn’t the responsible adult I should have been,” I tell my daughter; “I am sorry for the pain I have caused.”

The thing about being in a constant state of victimhood is that it is hard to be anything but self-centred.  In looking back, I can see that it was often all about me – how hurt I was, how unappreciated, how abused.  As I was bemoaning my life, I was perpetuating the same sins on my own children.

“The thing is, we all turned out to be decent people, Mom.  I guess that’s what we need to be grateful for.”

It is true.  All three of my children are thriving in their lives, respectable citizens, with healthy relationships – not without problems, but coping.

Patterns have a tendency to repeat themselves; each generation alters the history of the one before, but progress is never perfect.  My mother endured incest,  and abuse at the hands of spouses, and suffered illness all her life.  She left home at the age of fifteen to find a better life.  My father’s brilliance was always overshadowed by his internal struggles, and the beating he received at home.  He too escaped at fifteen with only a grade 8 education.

I like to think I am more assertive than my mother, having learned from her mistakes, and while I left home at seventeen, I set out to break the patterns of my father’s rage and abuse.  I also persevered and obtained a university degree and B Ed.

My children are already making better choices than I did at their ages, but like me, they have their work cut out following the trail of ancestral trauma.

Maybe, this is what life is:  a perpetual cycle of pain and healing, hopefully; with healing prevailing in the end.

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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